Wednesday, December 30, 2009

10 races that wowed us in 2009

The Charlotte area has lots of good annual races. But how many truly great ones are there?

Drawing from my own experiences but also heavily incorporating feedback from 63 local runners -- novices to elites -- I've compiled a lineup of 10 events that registered as spectacular over the course of the last calendar year.

I encourage you to argue with the selections, but at the very least, put them on your must list for 2010. If they're not already on it.


Hit the Brixx 10K/5K
This fall race, based next to the uptown Brixx Pizza, is a runner's dream. First, it provides the unique chance to run two races back-to-back, hassle-free -- there's enough time for most participants to finish the 10K and queue right up for the start of the 5K. Next, post-race beer is free and so is the all-you-can-eat buffet, where runners can inhale large quantities of pizza and pasta. And overall and age-group winners win pizza cutters, which tie in nicely with the theme and make the awards much more memorable than the average medal.
Held the last Saturday in September (Web site)

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Hog Jog 5K
In its inaugural running, in 2008, runners "ran too close to interstate traffic and through too many [bad] sections of uptown," reader Tracy Rabon says. In '09, the course was changed -- for the better -- and runner Kathryn Bishop adds that "it's tough to argue with ... having someone hand you a barbecue sandwich and a beer at the finish line." The event -- tied to the summertime Blues, Brews & BBQ festival -- also has a post-race Bloody Mary contest (judged by runners) and bounce houses for kids, and race packets include a hog snout mask.
Held the second Saturday in September (Web site)

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Charlotte Turkey Trot 8K
It's a perennial favorite for hardcore runners, people who only run one race a year, and everyone in between. As a result, the Thanksgiving Day race sold all 6,000 spots again in 2009. Though amenities are thin (aside from snacks and water, there's not much incentive to linger), the massive crowds invigorate the proceedings and the whole event has a nice, casual air to it. Relatives who aren't fit to run five miles can do the noncompetitive 5K run/walk so they can say they burned off at least a few calories pre-meal, too, and there are two kids races.
Held Thanksgiving Day (Web site)

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Santa Scramble 5K
The four-year-old event is quietly becoming the place for runners to pick up PRs. Here's why: Runners get to the start of the afternoon race by bus and then dash from one end of downtown Concord to the other, traversing a point-to-point route that's mostly downhill. "It felt like I was flying," says Dianne Allen, who set a 5K PR there. The electrifying crowds lined up for the Christmas parade help, too. Says Richard Hefner, who's run the past two Santa Scrambles: "There must have been at least 20,000 people along the course this year."
Held the third Saturday in November (Web site)

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LungStrong 15K/5K
With the exception of the start and finish, 15Kers see no commercial buildings along the fall race's 9.3-mile route. First, runners dip into Jetton Park, which rolls through the beautiful waterfront reserve for just over a mile. Then, runners come out and pass the Peninsula Club Golf Course and several miles of million-dollar homes before reconnecting with Jetton Road at the race's westernmost point. On the way back into town, the road winds along some of the most idyllic stretches of Lake Norman. It truly can be hard to keep your eyes on the road.
Held the third Saturday in October (Web site)

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Runway 5K
In 2007, Charlotte-Douglas International Airport first gave runners a chance to race across its tarmac, in close proximity to parked, landing, departing and taxiing aircraft. This fall, more than 1,300 participants showed up, overwhelming organizers (who had set a goal of 1,000) so completely that the starting gun went off 30 minutes late. It's not uncommon for airline passengers to exchange waves with runners, and since about 85 percent of the course is on the airport's tarmac, it's pretty darn flat. Translation: This is as good a place as any to PR.
Held the last Saturday in October (Web site)

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China Grove Main Street Challenge
China Grove is far better known as a Doobie Brothers song and "that exit off I-85 north of Kannapolis" ... but now in its fourth year, this Friday-night 5K has become increasingly popular thanks to a flat, fast course and a 9 p.m. start time. The YMCA of Rowan County sponsors the late-spring race, which has runners charging out of the streetlit downtown into the near-pitch-blackness of the countryside. Two fun kids' races kick things off before sundown, and organizers keep folks hanging around with treats like fresh melon and Krispy Kreme donuts.
Held the second Friday in June (Web site)

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Spencer Mountain 10-Miler
It may be "The Southeast's Toughest 10-Miler" only because there's not much competition for the title, but the Gaston County YMCA's late-fall jaunt is "by far the most challenging race I've run," says Faith Kirkland, who ran it for the first time this year. Adds Tom Torkildsen, who's run it several times: "The last [hill] is a monster" -- a 175-foot climb straight up Spencer Mountain Road. "I have seen runners walking [it] on more than one occasion." On top of all this, runners say the route's roads have a significant camber, making it tough on the legs.
Held the second Saturday of November (Web site)

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Charlotte Run for Peace at Home
More than 300 runners competed in this two-year-old event, held in the spring on the idyllic trails of McAlpine Creek Greenway. But the men's and women's races are staggered, so packs are relatively small (169 women and 137 men ran in 2009) -- this also makes it easy for wives to cheer on husbands and vice versa. Little flourishes enhance the experience: An Elvis impersonator is the official starter, age-group trophies are runner Bobbleheads, and there's a post-race raffle for cool prizes, so even slower runners have a shot at going home a winner.
Held the last Saturday in May (Web site)

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Thunder Road Marathon
Just five years ago, barely 1,000 runners participated in the then-new event. It's since exploded: Last Saturday, 1,400 marathoners competed alongside 3,000 half-marathoners -- and 1,500 more ran the Jingle Jog 5K. The challenging Boston qualifier course represents our area's only 26.2-miler and puts some of the city's most beautiful and eclectic neighborhoods on display, from the lavish homes of Myers Park to the colorful bungalows of NoDa. Volunteer and police support is strong; spectator support is spotty-but-growing (and often very enthusiastic); the race expo continues to reel in more vendors; and the tie-in with the NASCAR theme has the potential to really be something special when the NASCAR Hall of Fame opens in 2010. The running community pulsates during Thunder Road. It's a shining badge of honor for Charlotte.
Held the second Saturday in December (Web site)

Monday, December 28, 2009

'It is a great and beautiful sport'

The first e-mail I ever received from Rebecca Thomason had just 18 words in it, but included an exclamation point, two smiley faces, and one word that was all caps and had six "O"s when just two would have sufficed.

The first time I "met" her, while running the Yiasou Greek Festival 5K this past August, she was cheering for me (and many others) from a sidewalk in East Boulevard in Dilworth, clapping her hands, shouting my name, and -- to my surprise -- pronouncing it correctly.

I'd come to learn that these little glimpses of Rebecca Thomason personify her: She's warm, friendly, informal, supportive; she's someone who can make you feel in an instant like you've been friends for years.

She's also quite fast. A model of consistency, the effervescent 38-year-old blonde won the King Tiger 5K in June in 19:18; went out shortly thereafter with a stress fracture in her foot; won the Hit the Brixx 5K in 19:19 in her first race back this past September; and last month won the Dowd YMCA 5K in 19:20. She also won the LungStrong 5K, the stroller division of the Runway 5K, and was the fifth overall woman at the Charlotte Turkey Trot 8K, which was run by more than 3,700 people.

But Rebecca Thomason is not my 2009 Runner of the Year just because she's nice, or just because she's fast. I know plenty of nice runners, plenty of fast ones, plenty who are both nice and fast. What puts Rebecca a cut above the rest is her complete and utter selflessness when it comes to running, when it comes to those in the running community. It's her passion, quite simply, for stoking the passion of runners around her.

Wrote one nominator: "She ... welcomes runners at all times by keeping water -- and Propel! -- on her porch, and is one of the best cheerleaders both on and off the roads." Wrote another: "She has a neighborhood running group in [Dilworth]. She is the hostess for the legendary 'Beer Mile.' She has been a major force in establishing the Charlotte Running Club. [She recently became the group's Social Committee Chair.] She has hosted countless pasta dinners for runners at her house."

And there's more where that came from. Here are just a few of the tangible ways in which Rebecca Thomason has made Charlotte a better place for runners in the past year:

  • She started the Charlotte Kids Run Club, a running group for children of all ages that meets at her house twice a week. "The kids run laps around the block," she tells me. "Most of them are now up to running 2-3 miles each practice! Two of our kids ran their first 5Ks this season at 6 and 7 years old." Her 2-year-old daughter Summer is the group's youngest member.
  • She coaches the Girls on the Run program at Eastover Elementary School; it's her fifth year as a GOTR coach. "It is so empowering for young girls to learn about themselves and develop high self-esteem through running," says Rebecca, whose two older children attend Eastover.
  • She is a Cross Country for Youth coach at Sedgefield Middle School; the program exposes Charlotte Mecklenburg schoolchildren to cross-country running. "They are taught a character-building lesson at each practice, and then we help them set running goals and coach them on training and pacing," Rebecca says. "It has been so rewarding -- some of the kids have never been in an organized sport before. To watch them develop both in terms of their running ability and the way they communicate with their coaches has been extremely uplifting."
So we've established that she's friendly, she's fast, she's phenomenally selfless. She also was sensible this year, when it came to her training.

After suffering that stress fracture over the summer while prepping for the Chicago Marathon, she did what a surprising number of runners cannot: She stayed off the foot, number one, but she also stayed fresh, spending "countless hours on the stepper -- in a full boot! -- and in the pool doing deep water pool running." The work paid off with the Hit the Brixx win. She still made the trip to Chicago in October, but resisted the temptation to gut out the full 26.2 and wisely called it quits after hitting the halfway point, choosing instead to focus on longer-term goals.

Rebecca accepts setbacks and injuries for what they are, and takes a view we should all think about -- not just when we're hurt, but when we're healthy, too: "I have tried my best to not lose sight of the fact that I am blessed to be able to run, period. I tend to get down on myself if I am not running as well as I think I should be, but I also try to remember that there are people out there who can't run at all. So I try to keep it all in perspective."

That's it. She's my pick. There's my evidence. I think we're done here ... except for this one last great quote from 2009 Runner of the Year Rebecca Thomason:

"I think the best thing about being a runner is seeing other people start to realize their potential. I think every one of us has the ability to be a runner -- some fast, some not so much -- but just being out there is the best feeling in the world. I have people tell me that I inspired them to start running when they saw me fat and pregnant running -- if I could do it ... so could they. I never took that the wrong way. I think every single runner has the ability to inspire another. We are all in this together. It is a great and beautiful sport. The most individual in some ways, and the most powerful bonding sport in others."

* * *

Honorable Mention

D.C. Lucchesi, 42, Charlotte
You've probably never heard of the guy, but I'm telling you, he makes the Thunder Road Marathon GO. With a capital G. And a capital O. He says he has "more of an ombudsman role on race day," but he's done a little bit of everything, including: served as a media liaison and generated the electronic marketing for the event; organized the pace team leaders; played emcee at the race expo; picked up an injured runner along the course; refueled the gas-powered heaters; made food runs for the volunteers; and cleaned up trash afterward. He lives and breathes Thunder Road -- and he does it all for free. "It's mostly because I share [Run For Your Life owner Tim Rhodes'] vision that this can be something big and good for Charlotte," says DC, who also puts together the e-mail blast for Run For Your Life that many of you probably receive every week. He coaches 15 girls as part of Cotswold Elementary's Girls on the Run program, in addition to mentoring and/or coaching several adult runners -- also on a volunteer basis. What's his full-time job? "Stay-at-home dad. I've got three kids ages 8, 6 and 4."

* * *

Honorable Mention

Jonathan Savage, 43, Charlotte
You probably have heard of Jonathan, if you've been reading my blog long enough. He's arguably the city's top ultra-runner, having covered almost 4,000 miles this year -- including 100 at the Massanutten Mountain Trails Run and 132.24 at the Hinson Lake 24-Hour Ultra Classic (where he set a course record). But he also was a pacer this year at three marathons: Myrtle Beach, City of Oaks in Raleigh, and Thunder Road. Says Jonathan: "To help people achieve their goals and give them support when they are struggling is very rewarding." And he's a true student of the science behind the sport, so passionate that he's modified running shoes to try to enhance their performance. (Lately he's been experimenting with Nike Frees.) He shares all of his research on a running tips blog he launched this year (click here to read it), with the goal of helping others. "I look back on my running over the years, and there are so many things I know now that I wish I'd known then. Simple things, like a little extra salt in your drink, can make the difference between a good race and a miserable failure."

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Where are the Resolution Runs?

Q. You mentioned the absence of the Frosty 5K Series in a recent post. My question is: Where are the "resolution runs?" I can't find evidence of any events scheduled for the morning of Jan. 1... --A.W.

Well, if you were looking within the Charlotte city limits, you're right -- there's not much going on. My friend Bobby said there was a Resolution Run in Charlotte awhile back, but it never gained any real traction and disappeared after a few short years.

If you're willing to do a little traveling that morning, though, I know of three solid options:

1. The New Balance Girls on the Run 5K is at 10 a.m. in Denver (35-40 minutes north of uptown Charlotte). The start and finish are on the site where the Sally's Y in East Lincoln County. Entry fee is $25 and proceeds support Girls on the Run of Lincoln County. Overall, masters and age-group awards will be given out. Click here for the registration form, or here for more info.

2. The 28th annual "Hair of the Dog" event in Spartanburg, S.C. (less than 90 minutes west of uptown Charlotte) offers 10- and 5-mile races leaving from the Pine Street YMCA at 8:15 a.m. Registration is $20 on or before Christmas Day, or $25 Dec. 26 or later (prices are $5 cheaper for ages 16 and younger). Morning-of, you can get a Panera Bread breakfast for just $5 at the race site. Click here for more information.

3. Off 'N Running Sports of Greensboro is hosting its fourth annual Resolution Run -- a 5K run/walk -- at 10 a.m. It's happening on a rolling greenway course at Bur-Mil Park (5834 Bur-Mil Club Road). You need to pre-register (here), but entry is just 10 canned food items. Overall male and female winners will get Off 'N Running gift certificates.

If you'd prefer something more informal and closer to home, there's The Charlotte Runners Meetup Group's "Unofficial New Years Almost Noon Almost 10k Unorganized Trail Run" -- click here to see how unorganized it truly is (although it's sure to be a fun one, with a good group).

And if you want to get an even earlier jump on racing in 2010, there's the Running of the Lights at midnight on New Year's Eve/Day in Clemmons (about 75 minutes north of uptown Charlotte). Participants will be able to run through the Festival of Lights at Tanglewood Park while also enjoying a six- to eight-minute-long fireworks display. It's a 3.2-miler. Cost is $30 and the race shirts are Dri-Fit and long-sleeved. Click here for details.

Happy holidays...

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Mark your calendars for 20 tris in '10

Reposting a blog entry from earlier this month, as a friendly reminder:

I know more than a few of you runners out there are also triathletes -- and I know more than a few of you triathletes have been poking around the Set Up Events Web site, which revealed its 2010 triathlon schedules this month.

For those who haven't looked yet: I've combed through the lists to find the 20 tris taking place in the greater Charlotte area next year ... and found that in addition to popular races like the Tri Latta and Lake Norman races, several inaugural events are on the slate.

Registration opens over several days the first week in January, and it's important to also mark your calendars for those sign-up dates because some -- maybe even several -- of these tris will sell out fairly quickly. (Plus, the earlier you commit, the more money you'll save.)

Anyway, here goes:

NEW (sort of)! Cool Breeze Triathlon in Huntersville on Sunday, March 28: 250-yard pool swim, 20-kilometer bike, 5-kilometer run. Registration opens at 5 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 3. This race replaces the old MAP Triathlon, which sold out last year in three hours. Cap is 800 athletes. Details here.

NEW! Huntersville Triathlon on Sunday, April 25: 500-yard pool swim, 20-kilometer bike, 5-kilometer run. This one's almost identical to Cool Breeze, except the swim is twice as long. Registration opens at 5 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 4. Details here.

Jetton Triathlon in Charlotte on Saturday, May 8: 750-meter open-water swim (in Lake Norman), 20-kilometer bike, 5-kilometer run. Registration begins at 6 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 3. Details here.

Over the Mountain Triathlon in Kings Mountain on Saturday, May 22: 1.5-kilometer open-water swim, 45-kilometer bike, 10-kilometer run. The international-distance race is a point-to-point event that starts in Moss Lake and finishes in downtown Kings Mountain. Registration begins at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 5. Details here.

Tri Latta Triathlon in Charlotte on Saturday, June 12, and Sunday, June 13: 750-meter open-water swim (in Mountain Island Lake), 17-mile bike, 5-kilometer run. The Saturday race is for experienced triathletes, the Sunday race is for novices. Registration for both races opens at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 2. Details here and here.

NEW! Ballantyne Triathlon in Charlotte on Saturday, July 10: Distances are TBA, but it will be a pool swim that takes place at the Morrison Family YMCA. Registration opens at midnight on Sunday, Jan. 3. Details here.

Lake Wylie YMCA Triathlon in Charlotte on Saturday, July 24: 750-meter open-water swim; 10-mile bike, 5-kilometer run. According to the race page, the bike course will be "much safer" than it was in 2009, when participants had to be very wary of traffic. Registration opens at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 5. Details here.

NEW! Stumpy Creek Olympic Triathlon in Mooresville on Saturday, Aug. 7: 1,500-meter open-water swim (in Lake Norman), 40-kilometer bike, 10-kilometer run. Details here. Then on Sunday, Aug. 8, there's the related Amica 19.7 Sprint Triathlon at Stumpy Creek: Held in the same basic area, it features a 750-meter open-water swim, 16-mile bike and 5-kilometer run. Details here. Registration for both the Olympic and the sprint races opens at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 5.

Lake Norman YMCA Triathlon in Cornelius on Saturday, Aug. 21, and Sunday, Aug. 22: 750-meter open-water swim, 17-mile bike, 5-kilometer run. The Saturday race is for experienced triathletes, the Sunday race is for novices. Registration for both races opens at 5 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 4. Details here and here.

Cane Creek Triathlon in Waxhaw on Saturday, Sept. 18: 750-meter open-water swim, 14-mile bike, 5-kilometer run. Registration opens at midnight on Sunday, Jan. 3. Details here.

Take Flight Triathlon in Huntersville on Sunday, Oct. 10: 250-yard pool swim, 10-mile bike, 5-kilometer run. Registration opens at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 6. Details here.

There are also two Ramblin' Rose Women Only Sprints -- one in Rock Hill on Sunday, July 11, and one in Charlotte on Sunday, Sept. 26 -- and four races in the Birkdale Animal Hospital Kids Triathlon Series (on April 10, May 15, June 5, and July 17).

Sunday, December 20, 2009

What's happening with the Frosty 5K Series?

The short answer is: I don't know.

In fact, no one seems to be sure yet what exactly is going on with the former Charlotte Health & Fitness Magazine's annual January/February/March trail races, which had been held in local greenways and parks.

I first got wind that things were up in the air while putting together my "10 races that wowed us in 2009" column last week, thanks to a tip from reader Tracy Rabon. Then an anonymous poster made a comment on that blog entry suggesting that the fate of both the Frosty series and its summer counterpart (the Summer Trail Series) were uncertain.

And after hearing from another person who clearly was taking it for granted that the Frosty 5K races would be kicking off as usual next month, I sent an e-mail inquiry to a few folks over at the new CHF Monthly -- and got a response from co-founder Bill Crowder.

Here's what he had to say:

"Until October of 2009, David Klein operated 'Charlotte Health and Fitness' Magazine. Within the operations of the magazine, he diversified and promoted the events where you have questions. In October, he closed the magazine operations. Andrew and Ron Houghting and myself founded a new publication, CHF Monthly [Carolina Health and Fitness]. We also service the healthy lifestyles market for our readers.

"We are increasing the magazine's page count and distribution. David is developing the events business under a new company. [There is no relationship between the two businesses.]We, too, have had numerous questions on the Frosty 5K, so last week I e-mailed David and asked him what we should tell those with questions. He said that in a very few days he would have the infrastructure in place, and would be promoting events for runners."

Translation? Stay tuned. As soon as I have the information on the new races, I'll pass it along. ...

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

4 Thunder Road rookies + 1 veteran

To put a nice little bow on my Thunder Road coverage for 2009, here are quickie follow-up reports from the four runners I profiled last week -- plus a brief look back with a local runner who's gone 26.2 at TR every year since it started.

Jen Kushner: 2:50:59. "I was definitely nervous before the race, but wound up having so much fun out there! ... Training for this and completing it was one of my biggest accomplishments to date, and I smile every time I see the medal. And now I'm strongly considering the ING Georgia Marathon in March 2010!"

Kevin Ballantine: 1:42:54. "I was happy to finish in my time goal, actually a few minutes faster than I really thought I could do it. I don't know about a full marathon, but I'm going to think about it. Next time I'm going to try and break 1:40."

Alyson Vaughan: 4:36:51. "S
mashed my goal by over 20 minutes; however, I'm most excited about the fact that I didn't take a single walk break! Others mentioned that the crowd support in the second half is much thinner than the first half, but I thought that the partiers in NoDa and Plaza/Midwood made up for it with their energetic cheering!"

Jonathan Heigel: 4:04:33. "[My race] was a little lackluster. I ran too hot the first 13.1, and [at] 18 miles ... I got hit hard with cramps. I finished, but only after limping through the last eight miles. Rookie mistakes. Good motivation for my next time out!"

Congratulations to each of them -- and to ALL who finished the race. Well done.

* * *

Dianne Allen deserves special kudos for her performance Saturday: First, because she set a personal best last weekend with a 3:47:14, good for third place in her age group. Second, because she's now among a select group of runners who've run every Thunder Road Marathon since the inaugural race in 2005.

And if you don't believe you can get better with age, just look at the now-54-year-old Charlottean's results over the past five years: 2005 -- 4:34:30; 2006 -- 3:58:25; 2007 -- 3:54:31; 2008 -- 3:54:00; and then 2009, when she PR'd by nearly seven minutes on what she says was a "perfect" day weather-wise.

Of her first TR, in 2005, she recalls: "I completed it with two co-workers who were also running their first marathon. The last mile was an energy-filled, incredible feeling all the way to the end, when we finished together. It was hard to believe that I had finished 26.2."

Allen says over the years she's seen support for the big race increase, volunteers become more plentiful, and minor changes that have improved the course. She says her favorite part of the route is running through NoDa -- "The neighborhood crowds are loud and plenty" -- and that the last 2.2 miles are a close second.

Why does she keep coming back to Thunder Road? "What better place to run a marathon than in your hometown, on streets you're familiar with, on a beautiful course?" she says. "I like supporting my hometown race, and this one just gets better and better each year."

Monday, December 14, 2009

Jingle Jog? It was kind of a jungle out there

And now we pause for a moment to take a brief look back at what was apparently a pretty wacky Jingle Jog 5K on Saturday morning, through the eyes of the winner.

Chaz Hinkle of Charlotte ran a 17:17 to beat out Huntersville's Nathan Stanford (17:47) and Charlotte's Alejandro Arreola (18:00) in the Thunder Road-related event, but it sounds like things didn't go as smoothly as Hinkle had hoped. (Twelve-year-old Alana Hadley finished fourth overall and won the female division in 18:17; more on her in a minute.)

"The route doubles back on itself," says Hinkle, 44. "You run down Third Street, down by the hospital, then back up Third Street. Well, they didn't funnel the runners coming down the hill into the left lanes. So as I am coming up the hill, I am literally facing four lanes of curb-to-curb runners -- thousands of them, coming down the hill in the opposite direction.

"I did have a lead police car, but there were so many folks coming downhill that even the police car got caught in the flow. I ended up actually having to pass the police car, hop up on the sidewalk, and essentially fend for myself for about 300 meters.

"For the most part, people saw me coming and hopped out of the way, but it was a little bit hairy for awhile, and the sidewalk was cracked and uneven. ... The cop got back around me, and he apologized profusely, but I don't think it was his fault at all. They should have just had a couple volunteers -- or maybe just cones -- at McDowell guiding people to keep left."

Hinkle and others also say there was no clock at either the Mile 2 or the Mile 3 split. "I was going for a PR, so knowing the splits was important for me. Without them, I ended up kind of getting lost on pacing and ended up missing my PR goal by a good bit."

And then there was this:

Photos by David Norton

Uh, what the heck just happened there, Chaz?

"They were trying to roll out the finish line tape. It was a big long vinyl strip with velcro in the middle. But in the 30-something degree temperature, the vinyl was stiff and wouldn't unroll. The (UNCC) mascot dropped his end, panicked, and tried to pick it back up again as it curled back up and as I closed in on the finish."

We're just glad no one got hurt.

* * *

Alana Hadley agreed the race was somewhat chaotic.

In an e-mail this evening, she wrote: "I thought the course was a good one except for on the way back ... when we ran into the outgoing runners and had to dash onto the uneven sidewalk for a while to get some clear space."

But it was otherwise a great way for Hadley to cap a great year of racing during which she picked up wins at several local races, including the Charlotte Turkey Trot 8K, the Summer Breeze 5K, the Twilight 5K, the Shamrock 4-Miler, and the Cupid's Cup 5K.

"In all, I was happy with my effort and was glad to get the win to finish the year off with," she says. "I am taking a couple of weeks of easy running now over the holidays, and then I'll start getting ready for a new cycle to start 2010."

At Kiawah, victory for 1, tragedy for another

From this story in The Post & Courier of Charleston, S.C.:
KIAWAH ISLAND -- Experience plays a major role in long distance road racing, but it didn't count for much in the 32nd annual Kiawah Island Marathon and Half Marathon on Saturday.

In [his] first marathon and half marathon, the male [winner] not only won, but won convincingly.

BLAIR TEAL, 23, of GASTONIA, N.C., was beaming and chuckling as he recounted his first marathon, which he finished in elite time of 2:29:57 -- more than eight minutes faster than the second-place finisher Brian Knapp of Hilton Head.

Teal, who had a bad knee for the past two weeks, started the race at a fast clip of 5:40 per mile and felt comfortable."

I was relaxed. I wasn't breathing hard. I was even talking to people," said Teal, who ran for Appalachian State until he graduated in 2008.

Then he sped to a 5:20 pace, running with a half marathoner, but worried about losing it after Mile 16. Teal made sure to alternate energy gels and sports drinks every other mile to keep up his energy and cruised in at a 5:25 pace for the last three miles of the 26.2-mile run.

While he has "promised (his) knees two weeks off," Teal says his ultimate goal is the qualify for the Olympic Marathon Trials. "I have no anticipation of making it to the Olympics, but making it to the trials will just make me happy. I don't care about fame or money. I just love running."
At the end of the same story:
Saturday's race had a tragic note. A 37-year-old North Carolina man collapsed, suffering a heart attack, near the end of the half marathon. While a trauma doctor, also running the race, stopped to help and rode with the man in an ambulance to the hospital, the man died later in the afternoon. His wife and another relative also ran the race.
I'm told the victim once worked at the Charlotte-based (and now-defunct) EquiFirst Corporation, for about eight years, but don't have any more information at this point.

For women's winner, 1st time is a charm

A year ago, former Providence High School track star Maureen Campbell finished 10th overall in her first half-marathon: the Amica Insurance Half Marathon, which is run in conjunction with Thunder Road.

On Saturday, the 24-year-old woman friends know as "Mo" ran Thunder Road as her first full marathon ... and won the female overall title -- in 3:04:23. The runner-up finished more than 10 minutes behind her.

And to think that in late November, she wasn't even sure she was going to be able to race at all.

"Three weeks before the race, I developed a knee injury that had me struggling through a five-mile run," Campbell told me this morning. "I was so frustrated, but I went to see Mike Danenberg of Performance Therapy and Dan Bowker of Bowker Chiropractic for soft tissue and chiropractic work, and I know that I may not even have raced on Saturday had it not been for them.

"Taking their prescribed time off was unnerving, but I am so thankful I listened to them and that they took such good care of me so close to the marathon."

As for her first-marathon experience, in an e-mail to me Sunday, she wrote:

"The race was such an incredible experience and the weather could not have been better for us!

"This was my first marathon, so I went into it without any real expectations. I trained with a 3:10 goal in mind because I wanted to run the men's qualifying time for Boston. I thought 3:10 was lofty for my first one, and going into it, part of me was saying to just be happy with finishing my first marathon. But I knew if I didn't allow myself to think 3:10 was possible, there is no way I could do it.

"I didn't hit the wall, but I really enjoyed 'slapping it' in NoDa! The crowd support was really great, and talking with other runners throughout the race made it all go by so fast! Run For Your Life did a great job putting this on. It is such a good time of year to run this and reflect on how thankful I am for falling in love with running, and the wonderful friendships and experiences that have come from spending miles together."

* * *

Alice Rogers, 31, was the second-fastest Charlotte woman in 3:14:28. Thirty-seven-year-old Angela Pilkington of Harrisburg finished fifth in 3:18:10.

Overall winner's review of Thunder Road

One of Charlotte's newest marathoners is also now officially its fastest.

Jordan Kinley, who moved here from Oklahoma in late August and has been running competitively since age 9, won Charlotte's Thunder Road Marathon on Saturday by nearly six minutes in a time of 2:29:39. This was only the 25-year-old's second marathon, but also gets chalked up as his second victory -- he finished first in his 26.2-mile debut with a 2:27:19 at the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon last April.

I asked Jordan for thoughts on the Thunder Road experience, and he graciously offered some up Sunday ... after completing a workout consisting of an easy-but-rather-painful recovery run and an aqua jogging session.
I run a lot compared to most, but recently, I haven't had a goal for my training. I was hoping that Thunder Road could get me excited again to train through the winter months.

My coach, parents and friends didn't know I was going to toe the line because it was, more or less, a last-minute decision. I still haven't received that many congratulations because I'm still making friends here in Charlotte.

I wasn't nearly prepared enough to race on Saturday, but I thought if all went well, I could be near the front. I'm happy to have performed better than expected.

For the most part, I think Thunder Road was a well-organized, successfully marketed and smoothly run event. Here is my pro/con list:

  1. Great crowd support through the first half. Running in Myers Park is something I do almost every day, but Thunder Road made me appreciate the neighborhood's citizens.
  2. Fun way to see Charlotte. Though the course doesn't venture down to Ballantyne or up to the University, it does cover a good portion of the city.
  3. Amazing job by Charlotte's police force and volunteers who blocked traffic, monitored intersections and handed out water.
  4. The theme of the race, and the consistent association with NASCAR.
  5. The handling of the event by Run For Your Life and the event marketing crew. Registering for the race, picking up packets and getting results were all smoothly executed.
  6. The drummers underneath I-277 near the Bank of America Stadium. I got a surge of energy running to the drums' rhythm.

  1. The crowd support coming back through uptown was patchy at best. We didn't run more than three blocks from the start or finish of the race and I was disappointed the crowd was so thin around mile 18.
  2. The race expo. I have attended half a dozen marathon expos in the past and found them to be much livelier than Thunder Road's. I wish there had been guest speakers, former big marathon race winners and a radio station or TV broadcast in attendance to enhance the participants' level of excitement.
  3. The number of water stops. I want to put this in the Con category, but the volunteers of the 14 water stations did do an exceptional job. However, most marathons have closer to 20 water stops. For instance, Oklahoma City (21), Dallas White Rock (20 or 21), Marine Corps (20 or 21), St. Jude Memphis (22+), Atlanta (17 or 18), Tulsa Marathon (14 or 15).
  4. "The wall" at Mile 21 wasn't set up in time for me to run through. Clever idea and fitting charm for NoDa, but executed a little late.
  1. The almost non-existent crowd from Miles 18.5 to 20.5. It's a tough stretch at a difficult portion of the race, and to have no encouragement was disheartening.
  2. The crowd near the 24 mile marker that didn't offer me a beer, Irish coffee or mimosa.
  3. I wasn't overly impressed with the post-race recognition or festivities. I don't compete for press, but it's nice to be acknowledged when you win a marathon. I'm sorry for sounding arrogant, but not everyone breaks the tape.
  4. Where were the massages; maybe I missed those?

I will be in serious trouble if I don't give shout-outs some important people in my life. Thanks to Meagan, who unexpectedly came out to cheer me on at Mile 10; to my coach, Jeff Gaudette, for keeping me healthy and in a solid state of general fitness; and to Craft and Karhu, for giving me the kit and racing shoes I wore during the marathon.
For Thunder Road Marathon winner Jordan Kinley's full (and very good) race recap, click over to

* * *

Also just got some feedback from Charlotte's
Paul Mainwaring, who finished third overall and was the second-fastest Charlottean with a time of 2:38:16.

Pros, in no particular order:
  • Superbly organized and marshaled. Absolutely no issues with traffic or directions. Great job by all the volunteers. There were lots of them, and all seemed well-organized and knew what they were supposed to be doing. The pockets of cheerleaders and random entertainment acts were also very much appreciated.
  • Course layout. Tough but fair course. The first half goes through beautiful neighborhoods, and the last few miles through NoDa show another side to Charlotte.
  • Having the start right outside the Convention Center. People could keep warm before heading to start line. The car starting up and the national anthem were a nice touch also.
  • The checkered flag awards were a good touch and the medals are impressive. Nice long-sleeve technical shirt in the race packet.
  • The atmosphere in general. Just a feel-good positive vibe around the place.
  • The awards ceremony should be outside by the finish line, and sooner after the finish. In the convention center, it was far too low-key. To tie in to the race theme, they could have a podium for the top three, champagne to spray, etc.
  • They could do something about the three-mile section just after the half, though. No need to take it out to South Tryon/West/Mint. Add three miles in Dilworth, and run down Morehead directly to the Stadium.
To read Paul Mainwaring's full race recap, visit his blog by clicking

* * *

One other note: The third-fastest Charlottean, Billy Shue, finished fifth overall in 2:44:08. It was a personal best by more than 13 minutes: Seven weeks ago, the 25-year-old ran a 2:57:19 at the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C. -- while suffering from (he didn't know it at the time) swine flu.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

I love it when a plan comes together

I think I'm starting to get spoiled.

This past Nov. 1, I got my introduction to marathoning in New York City, which offers the world's largest marathon (43,659 participants) and is the one Runner's World anointed "Most Fun" in its January 2010 issue. I got in via the lottery; general odds of winning a spot that way are 1 in 6. Official time: 3:49:55.

Then on Saturday, I ran my second 26.2-miler here in Charlotte. None of the aches and pains that had been nagging me the past three weeks gave me any trouble. The weather -- which according to the earliest forecasts looked like it was going to be miserable -- turned out to be almost perfect for running: close to 30 at the start, just above 40 at the finish. I got pacing help from one of the fastest runners in the city. And by some sort of miracle, the only wall I hit was made of plywood and covered with paint ... I slapped it with my hand and laughed while passing through it. (More on this in a minute.) Official time: 3:42:32.

I know my friends, and I know my readers, and I know there were definitely people who questioned the wisdom of me running the first two marathons of my life within less than six weeks. Most experts, in fact, advise runners to space marathons six months apart.

When I aggravated my right knee during a 20-mile training run three weeks ago, I started questioning the wisdom of it, too. I had a blowout with about 5 miles to go during Run For Your Life's second-half-of-Thunder-Road course preview, but I kept running because I didn't want to walk from NoDa all the way back to the Dowd YMCA. I paid for this by suffering from IT band pain for two weeks. I've had sporadic IT problems in the past, so I knew how to treat it: foam roller, ice, rest. But then a little more than a week out my Achilles started aching, which was new for me.

Ironically, neither issue returned after I took that ChiRunning workshop last Saturday -- although I hedged my bets and told people this week not to be surprised if I decided to play it safe and drop out of the race. After all, 26.2 miles is a punishing distance that can both expose old injuries and create new ones. You could be fine for 20, then the dam could break at 20.01.

Injury flare-ups, in fact, are as unpredictable as weather forecasts. We were getting some bad ones early on. And bad weather forecasts are a mini-public relations nightmare for race directors, because race directors (naturally) want to provide the best experience possible for runners, and runners (naturally) are obsessed with what the weather will be like during a race they've spent months training for.

I'll admit that I got a little caught up in this by posting status updates on Facebook along the lines of "Is that a snowflake I see on the 10-day forecast?" But part of my mission, especially on Facebook, is to get local runners talking about things that are on their minds -- and the weather forecast for Thunder Road was definitely on their minds. It was on their minds when we were looking at a "wintry mix" eight days out, when we were looking at sleet and freezing rain six days out, when we were looking at light rain four days out, when we were looking at just clouds two days out, and when -- miraculously -- we were looking at a bit of sun the day before. It was gonna be a cold one, no question, but by Friday night there was also no question that the rain would miss us entirely.

As luck would have it, one of the great things about the way Thunder Road is set up is that you can stay warm inside the convention center up until just before the race. It also may be one of the not-so-great things: At 7:45 a.m., with five minutes to go, hundreds of runners flooded out onto College Street to find ... that it was pretty much impossible to get into the starting corral. This was not, however, the convention center's fault. Fault lies with whoever decided to space the pace teams about 20 feet apart, so that the 4:00 pacer was really only about 100 feet back from the starting line. I think if the pacers for 3:00, 3:15, 3:30, 3:45, 4:00, etc., had each been spaced about 50 feet apart, getting into the corral would have been much less stressful. Instead, you had 4,400 marathoners and half-marathoners basing how far back they wanted to be on a ridiculous formula. You had what amounted to a square peg trying to fit into a round hole.

Anyway, the chaos prevented me from hooking up with a friend I was hoping to run with for awhile who was trying to pace some of her friends to a 3:45. But that was pretty much the only thing that went wrong all day.

The key for me was locking in on an even pace. In New York, I went out 9:04, 7:51, 8:20, 8:09, 8:12, 8:07 for the first six miles. Way too fast; a rookie mistake. The first six in Charlotte? 8:35, 8:30, 8:31, 8:41, 8:25, 8:32. In fact, the first 23 miles I ran Saturday were within 12 seconds of my target pace of 8:30. The last three miles? 8:13, 8:13, 7:28. The last point-two? 7:14. (In New York, I "closed out" the final three miles in 10:25, 9:28, 9:40.)

Another telling statistic: I did the first half of New York in 1:48:55, the second half in 2:01:00. I did the first half of Thunder Road in 1:53:23, the second half in 1:49:09. The result: a PR by almost 7.5 minutes, and a negative split half-to-half of more than four minutes.

As Montell Jordan once said: This is how we do it.

We also do it, here in Charlotte, with a fantastic course that offers many challenging hills but not too many challenging hills. We do it with a huge amount of participation from off-duty police officers, and some truly remarkable volunteer support. We do it with crowds that entertain us but don't overwhelm us, allowing us to feed off them sporadically as opposed to constantly (which may have led to my crash in New York). It's easier to remember the oddball in Myers Park with the paddle on which he'd written "Smile if you want to be spanked"; the marching band under the I-277 underpass near Mile 16, right before Bank of America Stadium; the man on stilts wearing a Santa hat on Cedar Street; the massive plywood "Wall" with the cutout doorway right before Mile 21 in NoDa, which would have been the highlight of the race ... if not for the absolutely euphoric pack of rowdy revelers around Mile 24 in Plaza Midwood, who were boozing it up before noon and cheering for you like they knew you.

And in my case, I did it with solid support from Caitlin Chrisman, who in November offered to run the last 10 miles with me. Caitlin works for one of the big banks, but in her spare time helps lead the Charlotte Running Club and does things like blaze through half-marathons in 1:20:28 (she was the third overall female with that time at the OBX half last month). She jumped onto the course across Mint Street from BofA Stadium with a smile and a pocketful of gels, and she kept me distracted from any fatigue I might have been feeling with conversation that ranged from mutual running friends to my blog to random stuff like the Christmas photo card she and her boyfriend had made. The miles flew by for me, even though to her it probably felt like we were crawling.

Still, shortly after we passed the party animals at Mile 24, we both remarked that we'd been passing a lot of people, that no one had passed us in awhile, and that shoot, we should have been counting how many runners we'd gone by. I was feeling great, all things considered. So as we came up on Mile 25, I told Caitlin I was going to pick up the pace. "Cool," she said. "I'll start counting." Over the next seven-plus minutes, I overtook more than 30 people -- including, in the final few hundred yards, the friend who I'd failed to connect with at the starting line.

To me, it was a symbol of how everything had come together, at least this time. The weather. The injuries healing up. The more-conservative early-going. The even pace. Someone to talk to for more than an hour. Avoiding the wall (well, except that plywood one). I know I won't always get this lucky, but ... well, I know I won't always get this lucky.

So I'll just say, in closing: I was worried that the New York City Marathon, with all its grandeur, might have spoiled me. That other races might have a tough time living up to it in my mind. At the end of the day, though, Charlotte's Thunder Road Marathon -- in very different ways -- was an experience every bit as satisfying. I loved it.

See y'all back here next December.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Why Thunder Road is good for all of us

Marathons can be a great big pain in the neck.

For some people.

Like readers who this past week expressed annoyance about Charlotte’s Thunder Road Marathon via comments on Observer stories online – comments that were along the lines of:
  • “This is going to once again mess up weekend traffic. Why must we have other people’s hobbies inflicted upon us?”
  • “They should run on a track. Go around enough and you’ll cover 26.2 miles.”
  • “We have enough stress in our lives during the holidays. Having this two weeks before Christmas is beyond stupid.”
(Ah, that wonderful Christmas spirit!)

Yes, I’m a runner, and I ran the marathon. So no, I wasn’t one of the hundreds of area motorists who were inconvenienced on Saturday.

And I’m aware of the fact that plenty of those motorists were seeing red.

But let me tell you what I saw: I saw affluent families, warm cups of coffee in their hands, screaming encouragement in Myers Park. I saw teen girls, bright signs in their hands, screaming at the top of their lungs in uptown. I saw thirty-something men, light beers in their hands, screaming at the top of their lungs in Plaza-Midwood.

I saw police officers yelling at civilians, “You’ve got this, good job!” I saw civilians literally going out of their way to say “Thank you!” to police officers.

I saw a couple celebrating their wedding anniversary by running a half-marathon together. I saw a guy doing his third marathon, but only his first since 10 years away from running made him “fat.” I saw a pair of runners lock arms with a total stranger and guide the exhausted 47-year-old woman through the final push, helping her achieve a dream of qualifying for the Boston Marathon by mere seconds.

And at the finish line, I saw satisfaction, relief, redemption, pride, elation, love.

I saw things we don’t see enough of in our daily lives. I saw 26.2 miles of a city – our city – alive and aglow, awash in smiles.

So yes, I contributed to something that can be a great big pain in the neck, but in this case, I won’t apologize for it.

Note to regular readers: A recap of my Thunder Road experience will be up on Sunday. I finished in 3:42:32, a PR over New York City by nearly seven and a half minutes.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Good luck at Thunder Road tomorrow

I'll be out there for 26.2 in the morning. Goal: 3:45. (Look for a blog entry late in the afternoon.)

Whether you're running the full, the half, or the 5K, I wish you godspeed. Remember:

"The miracle isn't that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start."

--John Bingham

Thunder Road tips from the Race Director

One day to go, marathoners!

While you're resting your legs and filling up on carbs and trying to calm your nerves, consider these 10 pieces of advice from Run For Your Life owner Tim Rhodes and his event team:

1. Dress for Mile 1, not the start line. Simple rule of thumb here: If you're warm enough before the gun goes off, you're overdressed. Think layers.

2. Take your mom's advice: Eat something already. Race-day nerves may have you thinking of anything but food, but you'll need some sort of fuel to start the day. Something simple like a banana and a piece of toast or a small bowl of oatmeal.

3. Set reasonable goals. This will allow you to celebrate success no matter what your race distance or finish time is.

4. Have a Plan "B" -- and "C". If your only goal is to finish the half-marathon in under two hours, or run a sub-20 minute 5K, then you're leaving quite a bit to chance.

5. Pace yourself. Walk through the pit stops, gas up with PowerAde, and get going! If you've got some juice left, punch it up and finish strong!

6. Have a post-race plan. Finish lines are busy places on race day and are not the best place for a post-race rendezvous with your family and friends. The Sprint 4G Family Reunion area would be a great place to meet!

7. Carry ID. You never know what can happen on race day. If you don't have an ID bracelet, necklace, etc., add it to your Christmas list. Write your name, emergency contact numbers and any allergies on the back of your race number.

8. Get there early. This is particularly important for folks who live in the Charlotte area. Make room for the unexpected -- and a potty break -- with time to spare.

9. Thank a volunteer. It takes a ton of folks, untold hours, countless phone calls, meetings and other duties great and small to pull off an event like this. Nearly everyone you see -- and don't see -- is doing it for free, or for a charitable cause.

10. Remember, Bloody Marys or mimosas offered by fans along the course are NOT considered "energy drinks." Also, don't stop to party too long with the folks in Plaza-Midwood. Let's just say they have a reputation and the marathon course closes at 2 p.m.!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

At Thunder Road, he'll tackle his first 26.2

This is the last in a series of profiles saluting everyday Charlotte-area runners who are tackling the 13.1-mile and 26.2-mile distances for the first time at the Thunder Road Marathon on Saturday.

Jonathan Heigel, 40, Charlotte
Occupation: Management Consultant.
Competing in: Saturday's full marathon.
Been running: "Off and on since high school, but running long distance seriously only for the past two years as part of a triathlon training focus."
Longest race to date: Half marathon.
Longest training run: 24 miles.
Goal for Saturday's race:‬ "A smart race with a respectable finish -- not jinxing myself with a public time promise."

Q. Why are you doing this?
As an personal fitness goal, but also as preparation for my first full Ironman triathlon in 2010. My wife wisely pointed out it might be a good idea to actually race a standalone 26.2 miles before tacking one on the end of a long race day in the water and on the bike.
Q. What's been the worst training mistake you've made?
Running too hard in training. A good friend and coach once told me "you have to run slow to run fast" -- she's certainly right about building base before trying to set the world on fire.

Q. What was your most significant training breakthrough?
I was pretty amazed the first time I went over 20 miles on a long Saturday morning training run and still could walk afterwards. Two years ago, I'd have thought 20 miles was a long distance to drive, let alone run.

Q. Anything you've turned to for inspiration during your training?
Yes, this quote from Theodore Roosevelt: "It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat."

Q. Speaking of quotes, do you have a mantra you'll use if the going gets tough?
"Break it down and deal with it!" Get respectably up the next hill, to the next stoplight, or the next turn and live in the moment. Thinking about how many miles are left does you no good.

Q. What are the most significant things you've learned about yourself during this whole process?
I'm a marathoner trapped in the body of a linebacker, struggling to escape! ... Coming from a strong bicycling and swimming background, I saw running as a necessary evil in triathlon. As I've focused on the long run, especially in terms of form and discipline, I've found I actually like it, almost as much as my other endurance disciplines. I've also gained extreme respect for those runners out there competing in ultra-distance road and trail races. Who knows how far I'll end up running?

Nearly 2,000 marathoners and more than 4,000 half-marathoners are expected to run Thunder Road on Saturday. For details on the race, click here.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A Thunder Road mystery worth solving

If you're a follower of Run For Your Life on Twitter or a fan of the store on Facebook, you've probably seen the cryptic messages it's been posting all week:

"Spread the love! Find Tim at the Thunder Road Marathon Expo on Friday and win! Stay tuned for details."

Now, who's Tim? And what will you win if you find him? Well, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out the answer to the first question. (Just spend a little time poking around the RFYL Web site and it'll be fairly obvious.) What you stand to gain though is a little more complicated. I know the nature of the prize … but I've been sworn to secrecy.

All I can say at this point is that I would absolutely love to win the opportunity they're giving away. In the meantime, exact details on when and where Tim will be at the Expo are only going to be shared with Facebook fans and Twitter followers. So -- like those messages have been saying -- stay tuned.

At Thunder Road, she'll tackle her first 26.2

This is the third in a series of profiles saluting everyday Charlotte-area runners who are tackling the 13.1-mile and 26.2-mile distances for the first time at the Thunder Road Marathon on Saturday.

Alyson Vaughan, 27, Charlotte
Occupation: Analyst.
Competing in: Saturday's full marathon.
Years of running experience: "About 14 total, but I've really gotten into it within the past four years. I ran track in high school at Myers Park, but I did sprints and jumping field events. In college, I started running for exercise. Chapel Hill was a great place for running, so my distances slowly increased, and I started signing up for 5Ks and 10Ks, just for fun and for T-shirts!"
Longest race to date: Half-marathon ... "unless you count the total of my three runs in (September's) Blue Ridge Relay, which was about 22 miles."
Longest training run: 22 miles.
Goal for Saturday's race: "I just want to finish, uninjured, with a smile on my face. But if I had to put a number on it, it would be nice to break 5:00:00."

Q. Why are you doing this?
I'm doing this because I know how fortunate I am to be physically capable of running 26.2 miles -- even if it isn't very fast. And ... because I want to support our local race.

Q. Have you learned anything surprising about yourself during this journey?
I've learned that I'm more of a morning person than I thought, that I love colder weather, and that I hate running with an iPod. I also learned that this is one thing in my life that I don't have to be "good at" to truly enjoy. I'm a middle-of-the-pack racer -- or sometimes back of the pack! -- and that doesn't make me enjoy what I'm doing any less.

Q. What was your most significant training breakthrough?
My "accidental" 22-miler -- I actually finished it about 30 minutes faster than my first 20-mile run. I don't run with a Garmin or a watch, so I didn't know until afterwards that it was two miles longer than planned. Maybe I should just ignore the mile-markers on race day!

Q. Who's been your biggest supporter?
My family and friends have all been incredibly supportive, and I'm very grateful for that. But my husband, Ryan, ranks at the top. For our one-year anniversary back in October, he got me a "grab bag" full of different flavors of GUs and Sharkies, Body Glide, technical socks -- that sort of thing. It was the perfect gift! He's helped me map out runs in other cities when we've traveled on weekends, he's riden his bike to check on me and bring me extra water during a hot 20-miler, and he's held up funny motivational signs for me at races.

Q. Any other sources of motivation?
I have a friend whose 11-year-old sister is blind, suffers from a neurological disease, yet has completed two 5K races. (Read more about the girl, Taylor King, here.) Some of the great runners you've featured in your blog have been an inspiration as well. It feels good to have something in common with people like them.

Q. Are you nervous about Saturday?
Yes! I try to think about fun things like how it will feel to finish, and what flavor milkshake I want afterwards. But then my mind drifts to the long hill I have to climb in NoDa first!

Q. Can you say yet whether there'll be more marathons in your future?
I would love to do more! I don't want to be a "bucket list" marathoner. I'm doing [Thunder Road] this year because I know it'll be much harder to put in the hours to train once we have kids! ... I really want to do a destination marathon someday. Big Sur or Dublin come to mind.

Nearly 2,000 marathoners and more than 4,000 half-marathoners are expected to run Thunder Road on Saturday. For details on the race, click here.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Thunder Road odds + ends

It's finally (almost) here: The gun goes off for Charlotte's Thunder Road Marathon on Saturday at 7:50 a.m. Here are a few bits of news that might interest you:

  • Concerned about the weather? Latest forecast from the National Weather Service indicates rain or freezing rain is likely (60 percent chance). High temp will be about 40. But don't get too worried about a cancellation. In an e-mail to me this morning, race director Tim Rhodes wrote: "The only way we would cancel is if the police call it because of weather/traffic concerns. I spoke with the event officer and he did not sound concerned yesterday. My thought is that most of the undesirable weather is going to happen later in the day." My fingers are definitely crossed...
  • Runners, volunteers and spectators should remember: There's NO free parking uptown. So be prepared to walk a few blocks to the start ... or ... drive south of uptown, park near a Lynx station, and take the light rail to the Convention Center.
  • Thunder Road's free Health & Wellness Expo opens at 11 a.m. Friday, Dec. 11 -- and it's open to everyone, not just for registered runners. It'll be held at the Charlotte Convention Center (501 S. College St.) and will feature nearly 50 vendors, including representatives from major retailers and shoe companies, along with opportunities to buy all manner of running accessories and to learn about how to be a healthier runner. Expo hours are 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday, then from 6:30 a.m.-noon on race day.
  • Organizers are still seeking about 55 to 60 volunteers. If I could afford to pay you out of my own pocket to help out, I would. If I wasn't running myself, I'd be volunteering. I know the weather won't be the greatest, but a race this big can't go on without course monitors and people to hand out cups of water, among other things. Maybe you can convince a friend to join you -- it'll make the people-watching doubly awesome. Plus, you're guaranteed a cool long-sleeve volunteer T-shirt (along with a personal "thanks" from me if I see you, for whatever that's worth). Care to help? E-mail Jessica Douglas at

Thunder Road: His first half-marathon

This is the second in a series of profiles saluting everyday Charlotte-area runners who are tackling the 13.1-mile and 26.2-mile distances for the first time at the Thunder Road Marathon on Saturday.

Kevin Ballantine, 30, Concord
Occupation: Vice President of Operations & Quality Assurance at Icon Advisory Group.
Competing in: Saturday's half-marathon.
Been running since: "I started working out again consistently in January 2009, but really didn't start focus on running until this summer."
Longest race to date: 8K (SouthPark Turkey Trot).
Longest training run: 10.1 miles (three times).
Goal for Saturday's race: "I know I shouldn't have a time goal, I should just be proud to finish the race, but I really want to finish in the 1:40 to 1:50 range."

Q. Why are you doing this?
At the beginning, I had really just wanted to get in shape and lose some weight. After about six months of consistently working out, I finally got to the weight range I wanted to be in. But I am a super-goal-oriented person, so without the weight loss as a goal, I needed something else to look forward to. A good friend from high school suggested doing a half-marathon. She said training wasn't brutal and the recovery time was pretty short. My sister Kristen, who is also running her first half at Thunder Road, suggested that I run it with her, and so here I am!

Kevin Ballantine, at left, and sister Kristen (Bib No. 161) with friends,
before the Charlotte SouthPark Turkey Trot 8K last month.

Q. Have you two been training together?
No, but we've kinda stuck to similar training plans, so it has been cool to finish a long run and then call her and see how she did. This has really brought us closer together. We've gone to running stores together, tried different GUs, and just been able to share a lot of cool experiences through running. Plus, when we both did our first 10 milers, we were super-excited for each other. She just finished doing 12 miles last week -- I was jealous!

Q. Will you run with her on Saturday?
I'm going to start with my sister, and then I will run my race and maybe run with her again for the last ½ mile after I finish. I've been training solo this whole time, so I'll probably just find a pack of people going my pace and trail a bit.

Q. What was your most significant training breakthrough?
Probably running 10 miles for the first time. I was incredibly excited -- even posted it on my Facebook wall and got a lot of support from friends. I've found that I get faster the longer I run, and that has made me feel good about my chances on race day.

Q. Are you more nervous, or are you more excited, about race day?
I am really excited to go out there run a good race. I'm sure I will have plenty of nerves Friday and Saturday morning, but by Mile 3 I should be hitting me groove and really enjoying myself.

Q. Got a song you're planning to cue up on your iPod when the going gets tough?
I've got a special list of like 150 awesome songs on my iPod for the race. If the going gets tough, I'm going to look for one of three songs: "Forever" by Drake, "Hustler" by Simian Mobile Disco, or "Running Free" by Coheed and Cambria.

Q. Can you say yet whether there's a full marathon in your future?
Great question. I want to finish this guy and then see how I feel. I think I would enjoy the challenge, but I would really find it hard to get in all of the training required. 50/50.

Nearly 2,000 marathoners and more than 4,000 half-marathoners are expected to run Thunder Road on Saturday. For details on the race, click here.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Help cancer survivor celebrate in Kiawah

Although it's the first time I've mentioned her name on my blog, some of you out there may know about Adrienne "Daisy" Zonneville.

She's gotten a lot of attention from area media during her training for the Kiawah Island Golf Resort Marathon. (See stories about her here, here, here, and here.)

The short version of her story is this: She'll run the race in South Carolina on Saturday, which is Dec. 12 -- which is the day that marks exactly 15 years of her being cancer-free. It will be the 32-year-old Troutman woman's first marathon.

Daisy, who is getting married this spring, is running the race with her fiance Jeff Roy and her maid of honor, Lauren Hayward; they all trained with Team in Training and have been raising money to benefit the Leukemia & Lymphona Society -- Daisy says it's her way of giving back to the organizations that helped her survive.

"I am a former Make-A-Wish kid, and just have this complete desire to help the next batch of people getting the disease," says Daisy, who was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin Lymphoma at age 11. "Maybe in a similar situation and maybe not, but just [people] needing the extra helping hand."

Read a couple of those stories I linked to above to get a sense of Daisy and her mission. Then come back and consider donating to her efforts, even if it's just a few bucks. She and her fiance are still hundreds of dollars shy of their minimum fund-raising amount. If they don't hit their minimum goal, I'm told, they'll make up the difference with money from their wedding fund. ...

To donate to Team CDR (short for "Team Crazy Daisy Racing), click here.

Thunder Road: Her first half-marathon

There are some very fast runners in the Charlotte area. There are also people from these parts who have overcome tremendous obstacles and/or beaten incredible odds to become the runners they are today.

But most of those participating in the Thunder Road Marathon on Saturday are everyday folks of average ability -- and many have never before attempted the 13.1-mile and 26.2-mile distances.

Today through Thursday, we salute these first-timers.

Jen Kushner, 26, Matthews
Occupation: Account Executive-Group Sales, for the Charlotte Bobcats.
Competing in: Saturday's half-marathon.
Been running since: February 2009.
Longest race to date: 10K.
Longest training run: 10 miles.
Goal for Saturday's race: 1) Finish with a smile; 2) time of 2:32 for half-marathon.

Q. Why are you doing this?
My friend Keara mentioned that she had a goal of running a half-marathon in 2009. She had never been a runner, and neither had I, so I told her that I would try with her. We figured we would start with a 5K and see if we liked it. Started off on the "Couch to 5K" plan, which is VERY beginner. For awhile, I didn't think I'd actually even get to one mile! Two 5Ks, an 8K and a 10K later, we are still going, and loving it! [Jen, at left in the photo below, is planning to run Saturday's half-marathon with Keara Anderson, also pictured.]

Q. Who's been your biggest source of motivation?
The most motivating figure for me is someone I do not even know. I read a story online of a woman who is 86 years old and running marathons. She did not start running until she was 64! ... After reading her story, what excuse did I have? I am in good health and in my mid-20s, and was being shown up by someone in her 80s. She definitely is a big motivator for me.

Q. What was your most significant training breakthrough?
With the "Couch to 5K" plan, the first several weeks consist of intervals of walking and jogging/running, but only a few minutes of running at a time. One day, I was following the plan as usual, and then I wound up getting my first "runner's high," and it felt awesome. I don't really know how far or long I ran, because I just went with it. I think that was the first time I really understood why people love running so much.

Q. Do you have a favorite inspirational quote you've turned to during your training?
Keara found a great quote that we may put on shirts for the big day. It is, "The hardest part about today was getting here." I look forward to lining up for the race to start, and knowing that months of work had all led to that moment.

Q. Are you more nervous, or are you more excited, about race day?
At this point, I am more excited. So much about the race is an unknown to me. I am looking forward to being part of such a big race, seeing the crowds, seeing what bands they have along the way ... just the whole overall experience. And of course, being able to say I've run a half-marathon.

Q. Can you say yet whether there'll be any marathons in your future?
I hadn't thought that far ahead, but then during a long run last week I started day-dreaming about a marathon. Now is probably the best time in my life to try it, since I am already halfway there. We'll see how the half goes first!

Nearly 2,000 marathoners and more than 4,000 half-marathoners are expected to run Thunder Road on Saturday. For details on the race, click here.